Growing up, I constantly struggled with my posture while riding. Looking back, it seems my time in the saddle was spent either with a back too rounded or one arched in a way that caused my lower back to ache long after my riding time for the day was complete. Since I also knew many riders that complained about back pain from riding, I just assumed the daily discomfort was the price I would pay to do the sport that I loved so much. I didn’t learn until years later that my discomfort was actually from a very common postural distortion that really had nothing to do with ‘riding’-but riding did in fact magnify it.
Most people have one or more of three common postural distortions. One of these distortions is called a “Lower Crossed Syndrome.” Lower Cross Syndrome (LCS) is just a fancy way of explaining that when you stand tall, your back arches and your pelvis rotates forward. In other words, you stand with “duck butt.” You can recognize riders with LCS because they will often ride with a very prominent arch in the back-while complaining of lower back pain!
LCS is created by a pattern of muscle imbalances. The most common cause of LCS muscle imbalance is from spending too much time sitting-and not necessarily in the saddle. No wonder we ache more in the saddle as we age. It is not necessarily the aging itself that is creating the problem, rather the time spend sitting at a desk (in school or work) or socializing in front of a computer.
Sitting tightens the hip flexors (including the Tensor Fascia Latae), weakens core stabilizers and creates unresponsive glutes and hamstrings. When we ride, we want flexible hip flexors (especially the TFL), very strong core stabilizers and responsive glutes and hamstrings. When the TFL is tight and the core stabilizers are weak, the lower back must pay the piper.
Two years ago, I committed to a 90 day fitness program that focuses on core stabilization and muscle rebalancing. Since completing that program I no longer have lower back pain when I ride or during any of my daily activities. If you have lower back pain when in riding or your riding instructor has commented on your posture, I would encourage you to consult with a fitness professional who is qualified to do a simple, painless postural assessment. Your fitness trainer would then be able to recommend the appropriate flexibility and strengthening exercises to restore muscle balance, help improve your posture and ultimately improve your riding. If you do not have a trainer or would simply like to learn more, read about the Virtual Posture Assessment offered by the Athletic Rider.
Your body-and your horse-will thank you for your commitment to your own fitness. Let’s face it, the more you invest in your own fitness, the better your horse will perform.